The Liberty Song

A short time after the refusal of the Massachusetts Legislature to rescind the Circular Letter of February 11, 1768, relating to the imposition of duties and taxes on the American Colonies, John Dickinson 1 of Delaware, the celebrated author of a series of essays entitled "The Farmer's Letters," wrote to James Otis of Massachusetts, as follows: "I enclose you a song for American freedom. I have long since renounced poetry, but as indifferent songs are very powerful on certain occasions, I venture to invoke the deserted muses. I hope my good intentions will procure pardon, with those I wish to please, for the boldness of my numbers. My worthy friend, Dr. Arthur Lee, 2 a gentleman of distinguished family, abilities and patriotism, in Virginia, composed eight lines of it. Cardinal De Retz always enforced his political operations by songs. I wish our attempt may be useful." This song was published in the Boston Gazette of July 18, 1768, to which paper Mr. Otis, and other early advocates of political and religious liberty, often contributed. It also appeared in the various newspapers of New England, where it soon became very popular.

On the sixth of July, two days after the date of his first letter, Mr. Dickinson wrote again to Mr. Otis, saying, "I enclosed you the other day a copy of a song composed in great haste. I think it was rather too bold. I now send a corrected copy which I like better. If you think the bagatelle worth publishing, I beg it may be this copy. If the first is published before this is come to hand, I shall be much obliged to you if you will be so good as to publish this with some little note, 'that this is the true copy of the original. 3 In this copy I think it may be well enough to add between the fourth and fifth stanzas these lines:

How sweet are the labors that freemen endure,
That they shall enjoy all the profit, secure -
No more such sweet labors Americans know,
If Britons shall reap what Americans sow.
In freedom we're born -"



Come join band in hand, brave Americans all,
And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty's call;
No tyrannous acts, shall suppress your just claim,
Or stain with dishonor America's name.

In freedom we're born, and in freedom we'll live;
Our purses are ready,
Steady, Friends, steady,

Not as slaves, but as freemen our money we'll give.
Our worthy forefathers - let's give them a cheer -
To climates unknown did courageously steer;
Thro' oceans to deserts, for freedom they came,
And, dying, bequeath'd us their freedom and fame.

Their generous bosoms all dangers despis'd,
So highly, so wisely, their birthrights they priz'd;
We'll keep what they gave, we will piously keep,
Nor frustrate their toils on the land or the deep.

The Tree, their own hands had to Liberty rear'd,
They lived to behold growing strong and rever'd;
With transport then cried, - " Now our wishes we gain,
For our children shall gather the fruits of our pain."


How sweet are the labors that freemen endure,
That they shall enjoy all the profit, secure, -
No more such sweet labors Americans know,
If Britons shall reap what Americans sow,

Swarms of placemen and pensioners' soon will appear, Like locusts deforming the charms of the year:
Suns vainly will rise, showers vainly descend,
If we are to drudge for what others shall spend.

Then join hand in hand brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;
In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed,
For Heaven approves of each generous deed.

All ages shall speak with amaze and applause,
Of the courage we'll show in support of our laws;
To die we can bear, - but to serve we disdain,
For shame is to freemen more dreadful than pain.

This bumper I crown for our sovereign's health,
And this for Britannia's glory and wealth;
That wealth, and that glory immortal may be,
If she is but just, and we are but free.
In freedom we're born, &c.

1 John Dickinson occupies a prominent position in the early history of the Revolution. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1764; of the Congress of 1765, and also of the first Continental Congress, which met in Carpenter's Hall at Philadelphia on the fourth of September, 1774. Of the important and eloquent state papers of that Congress, he wrote the principal part. Though so little a republican at the commencement of the Revolutionary difficulties, as to oppose the Declaration of Independence, because be doubted the policy of Congress, "without some preclusory trials of our strength," he fully proved the sincerity of his attachment to the liberties of his country by marching to Elizabethtown, at the head of his regiment, a short time after the declaration, to repel the invading enemy. In November, 1767, the first of a series of communications written by him, entitled "Letters from a farmer in Pennsylvania, to the inhabitants of the British Colonies," appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Dickinson died February 14, 1808.

2 Arthur Lee was a bold and fearless patriot. At the commencement of the troubles with the mother country, he went to England, from whence he rendered most important services to his country, by sending to the patriots the earliest intelligence of the plans of the Ministry. His writings are numerous, chiefly political; among them the most celebrated, are the letters under the signature of "Junius Americanus." In a letter to Samuel Adams he says, "The first wish of my heart is, that America may be free - the second is - that we may ever be united with this country. But this union, however desirable, must not be upon dishonorable and slavish terms."

3 In the Pennsylvania Chronicle, published at Philadelphia, July 4-11, 1768, this amended copy appears; but we do not find it complete in any of the Boston papers. It is probable that the request of the author was never complied with, and if there was any alteration in the copy published after July 18, it was done without any note or comment. Late in September, it appeared in a ballad sheet, set to the majestic air, "Hearts of Oak," and was sung in the streets of Boston and the villages of New England, by all the sons of freedom, who "promised themselves that all ages would applaud their courage."

4 Swarms of placemen and pensioners. The Ministry have already begun to give away in pensions the money they lately took out of our pockets, without our leave. - Note by the author of the song.