Last night for some reason a question arose in mind as to the lineage of the American Presidential anthem “Hail to the Chief’. At one time I had borrowed from the Richland County library a compact disc containing a compendium of civil war music and I had a vague recollection that the piece was composed and played for General George McClellan who preceded General Ulysses S. Grant as the Supreme Union Commander. Well I stand corrected. From the very authoritative Wikipedia I have learned that the piece “Hail to the Chief” is of a much more distinguished lineage and much older in its use as a presidential anthem.
It seems in 1812 English songwriter James Sanderson set to music sections including ‘Hail to the Chief” of Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake. Prior to this in 1810 two English producers made Lady of the Lake into a play for performances in London and Edinburgh and in 1812 the American version debuted in New York.
The following is a brief quote from the Wikipedia:
The association with the President first occurred in 1815, when it was played to honor both George Washington and the end of the War of 1812 (under the name “Wreaths for the Chieftain”). On July 4, 1828, the U.S. Marine Band performed the song at a ceremony for the formal opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which was attended by President John Quincy Adams. Andrew Jackson was the first living President to have the song used to honor his position in 1829, and it was played at Martin Van Buren’s inauguration in 1837. Julia Tyler, second wife of John Tyler, requested its use to announce the arrival of the President. Her successor as First Lady, Sarah Childress Polk, encouraged its regular use in this manner after it was used at James Polk’s inauguration; William Seale says, “Polk was not an impressive figure, so some announcement was necessary to avoid the embarrassment of his entering a crowded room unnoticed. At large affairs the band…rolled the drums as they played the march…and a way was cleared for the President.” Under the term of Harry Truman the Department of Defense made it the official tribute to the President.
President Chester A. Arthur did not like the song and asked John Philip Sousa to compose a new song, which was entitled Presidential Polonaise. After Arthur left office, the Marine Band resumed playing Hail to the Chief for public appearances by the President.
During the American Civil War (1861–1865) the same piece was also used to announce the arrival of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. On October 3, 1861, Davis visited with Generals P. G. T. Beauregard, Joseph Eggleston Johnston, and Gustavus Woodson Smith at Fairfax Court House (now Fairfax, Virginia) for a Council of War. While at Fairfax, President Davis also conducted a formal Review of the Troops, which numbered some 30,000. At the start of the review, the band of the 1st Virginia Infantry struck up “Hail to the Chief” and concluded with “Dixie”.
Well, who’d eh thunk it. “Combining Hail to the Chief” and “Dixie” seems contrary to all logic but we seem to have much more in common as a nation than we thought. May we give thanks to God for preserving our union and may we always strive to make sure that (in the words of Abraham Lincoln) “…government of the people, by the people, …(and)… for the people,shall not perish from the earth.”