Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fourth Of July

Happy Birthday, USA!

Last weekend I had the good fortune to visit the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan:
A complex of buildings in the heart of New York City, The Morgan Library & Museum began as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913), one of the preeminent collectors and cultural benefactors in the United States. As early as 1890 Morgan had begun to assemble a collection of illuminated, literary, and historical manuscripts, early printed books, and old master drawings and prints.

Mr. Morgan's library, as it was known in his lifetime, was built between 1902 and 1906 adjacent to his New York residence at Madison Avenue and 36th Street.
I was able to see this inspiring piece in his collection on display: an original from the first set of printings of the Declaration of Independence:
With Memorial Day and Independence Day approaching, The Morgan Library & Museum has placed on view its copy of The Declaration of Independence. One of the most timeless and eloquent of historical documents, it stands, with the Magna Carta, as a classic charter of freedom.

The Morgan's copy is one of just twenty-five recorded copies of the first printing of the Declaration and is considered one of the two or three finest in existence.

The Declaration of Independence, the formal statement by the representatives of the Thirteen Colonies announcing their separation from Great Britain and the birth of the United States of America, is a document whose historical importance can hardly be exaggerated.

The text was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. On that day, it was resolved that an accurate copy should be printed and distributed to "the several Assemblies, Conventions & Committees or Councils of Safety and to the several Commanding Officers of the Continental troops." A few weeks later, fifty-six delegates to the Continental Congress signed a slightly but significantly different version of this text, which was engrossed on parchment and is now on display at The National Archives.

The Morgan's copy of the Declaration came into the hands of Benjamin Chew (1722–1810), who, until the Revolution, was chief justice of Pennsylvania. It was preserved as part of the Chew family archives in Cliveden, their country house in Germantown. The Morgan purchased it at auction in New York in 1982.
Hold that thought about a "different version"...

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted for formal independence, by resolving that
these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
On July 3rd, therefore, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, predicting:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.
Though presciently getting most of that prediction right, including the part about "one end of the continent to the other", Adams was off by two days on the date, because what we celebrate actually is the formal adoption on July 4, 1776 of a longer and more detailed resolution known as the Declaration of Independence (the final signing of which didn't start until August 2!) instead of memorializing the initial resolution from two days before:
Thomas Jefferson had already been working on writing this document:
Historian Stanley L. Klos writes that Jefferson spent 17 days preparing the first draft. It relied heavily on Virginia's Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason, on calls for independence from other colonies, and on Jefferson's own work on the Virginia Constitution.

Jefferson first showed his draft to Adams and Franklin because, he said, "they were the two members of whose judgments and amendments I wished most to have the benefit before presenting it to the committee." [which also included Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston]

The edited declaration was presented to the Continental Congress on June 28 -- and there it sat while debate continued, not over the words of the declaration but over the essential question of whether the Colonies should sever ties with England.

That was finally decided on July 2 -- the date Adams expected to be "the most memorable Epocha in the history of America."
The editing was finished, and the Declaration signed by 56 delegates, on July 4, 1776.
What was the difference between the printed copy I saw at the Morgan and the final signed Declaration of Independence? I didn't read it closely enough at the Morgan to be sure of what they are referring to, but to gain the support of South Carolina and Georgia, an anti-slavery passage was deleted:
Two passages in Jefferson's draft were rejected by the Congress -- an intemperate reference to the English people and a scathing denunciation of the slave trade.
Which inevitably brings us to the Civil War.

And the unofficial National Hymn, the Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe, which has an interesting history (and for "the rest of the story", I attended an elementary school named in her honor). First, the tune started as a Methodist revival hymn, "probably written by William Steffe in 1855-56", called Say, Brothers will you meet us, On Canaan's happy shore. Later, a single verse of new words was put to the tune as a Union marching song, called John Brown's Body, about which there is another historical twist:
There is also revisionist evidence that this song was originally created by a group of Union soldiers (with only the first verse), mocking a comrade-in-arms who shared the name "John Brown".

As musicologist Irwin Silber states, " 'John Brown's Body' was not composed originally about the fiery Abolitionist at all. The namesake for the song, it turns out, was Sergeant John Brown, a Scotsman, a member of the Second Battalion, Boston Light Infantry Volunteer Militia."

Columnist Mark Steyn elaborates: "This group enlisted with the Twelfth Massachusetts Regiment and formed a glee club at Fort Warren in Boston. Brown was second tenor, and the subject of a lot of good-natured joshing, including a song about him mould’ring in his grave, which at that time had just one verse, plus chorus. They called it 'The John Brown Song'. On July 18th 1861, at a regimental march past the Old State House in Boston, the boys sang the song and the crowd assumed, reasonably enough, that it was inspired by the life of John Brown the Kansas abolitionist, not John Brown the Scots tenor. [...] Later on, various other verses were written about the famous John Brown and the original John Brown found his comrades’ musical tribute to him gradually annexed by the other guy."
Others suggest the soldiers must have been well aware of the double entendre between the two John Browns, which was part of their joke.

Meanwhile, there was a search for a suitable National Hymn:
When the Civil War broke out there was no great national hymn, generally accepted as such. This need of a new national hymn to meet the new and existing conditions, one that would be the great peace song, yet the war song of the nation was deeply felt at the very beginning of the war. At the request of many prominent Union men, a committee, composed of scholars and statesmen was appointed to select such a hymn for the use of the homes in the north and the army in the field.

The committee waited three months for such a song. Twelve hundred competitors presented their compositions for the prize of $250 for the music and $250 for the words; but not one of them was accepted. The committee found that there was no soul-feeling, no fire of patriotism, running through the songs. Of all the twelve hundred songs composed in 1861 in competition for the prize of $500-not one is alive today!
Enter Julia Ward Howe, wife of abolitionist Samuel Howe who was, ironically, a member of the Secret Six that apparently bankrolled John Brown's insurrection!

Mrs. Howe would find inspiration to write her new words completely independently from the previous contest for a National Hymn:
As a result of their voluntary work with the Sanitary Commission, in 1862 Samuel and Julia Howe were invited to Washington by President Lincoln. The Howes visited a Union Army camp in Virginia across the Potomac. There, they heard the men singing the song which had been sung by both North and South, one in admiration of John Brown, one in celebration of his death: "John Brown's body lies a'mouldering in his grave."

A clergyman in the party, James Freeman Clarke, who knew of Julia's published poems, urged her to write a new song for the war effort to replace "John Brown's Body." She described the events later:

"I replied that I had often wished to do so…. In spite of the excitement of the day I went to bed and slept as usual, but awoke the next morning in the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, I shall lose this if I don't write it down immediately. I searched for an old sheet of paper and an old stub of a pen which I had had the night before, and began to scrawl the lines almost without looking, as I learned to do by often scratching down verses in the darkened room when my little children were sleeping. Having completed this, I lay down again and fell asleep, but not before feeling that something of importance had happened to me."
A facsimilie of that scrawled first draft on the "old sheet of paper" is found here.

Popularity grew, even though she only got $5 for the words:
Shortly after penning the new words Howe's lyrics were published in a 1862 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. After its publication the Battle Hymn Of The Republic grew in popularity and spread throughout both the north and the south due mostly to the efforts of a Union chaplain named Charles Cardwell McCabe. In the south, the Battle Hymn evolved into a heroic hymn becoming synonymous with the northern war effort to free the slaves often being sung by imprisoned Union soldiers.

Other Interesting Facts About The Battle Hymn Of The Republic:
For her services as lyricist, Julia Ward Howe was rewarded with the sum of only five dollars. A far cry from the $500 contest prize offered several years earlier.
An important observation about the interplay of words and music:
The marked differences between these three lyrics show how vital is the relation between words and music. The colourless, seven-syllabled, thrice-repeated line, “Say brothers, will you meet us,” is plaintive, if not dreary, in effect. The eleven syllables of “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,” with their stronger vocal quality and their sinister suggestiveness, have a primitive folk-quality and a martial vigour. The iambic heptameters of “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” rise to the elevation of a religious processional.
Indeed, the almost obscure religious imagery of the Battle Hymn is one of its most striking features:
The hymn was also a favorite of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, and remains a staple of American patriotic and religious music.

In 1862, Howe journeyed to Washington, D.C., in company of her abolitionist husband, Samuel Gridley Howe. Although slow to embrace abolitionism, Howe was caught up in the drama of John Brown's martyrdom for his failed attack on Harpers Ferry. Her powerful Biblical imagery linking the Old Testament prophesy of vengeance and redemption ("I have trodden the wine press alone … and trampled them in my wrath … For the day of vengeance was in my heart, / and my year of redemption has come." [Isaiah 63:1–6]) with God's mercy and Christ's sacrifice framed the Civil War as a Christian crusade. The music to "John Brown's Body" and "Battle Hymn" is based on an old Methodist hymn.
The full text of all six verses (only the first five were originally published) is here.

For some interesting line-by-line analysis of the biblical imagery with references, see both here and here.

For example, what are Grapes of Wrath? See Revelations, Joel, and Isaiah:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored - Once again, Julia Howe sees the Biblical picture where Messiah is trampling the grapes of wrath prior to most terrible judgments in Revelation.

In 14:18-20, we see that when God tramples the grapes of sin, blood flows from the massed armies gathered for the Battle of Armageddon for 180 miles long!

In Revelation 19:13-19, we see that Jesus Christ is trampling the grapes of sin, with a garment dipped in the blood of Calvary.

In Joel 3:12-14, we see another incredible picture of God trampling out the grapes of sin, in vats that are FULL.

Isaiah 34:6-10 and 63:1-4 also deliver this picture fully.
On this page you can download an mp3 of an oddly haunting contrapuntal "modern folk" version (right-click on this mp3 link and "save target as" to download to your computer for playback).

Here the (in)famous "Dancing Christmas Light Guy" has set his Christmas lights to dance to the Battle Hymn.

Whitney Houston performs for the troops in 1991, presumably after Desert Storm:

The Mormons doing what they do best:

Don't miss Christian Heavy Metal band Stryper's version -- their name and costumes derived apparently from Isaiah 53:5, "with his stripes (wounds) we are healed":

And here you can sing-along to the bouncing ball!

Time for some solemn acts, devotion to God, pomp and parade, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations!

Happy Birthday, America!


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