"Hail, Columbia"

A Brief History of "The President's March"

Broadside from the American Civil War containing two songs, 'Hail Columbia' and 'America', intended to rouse Union soldiers so that they will be victorious, Washington, D.C, 1863.
JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images

"Hail, Columbia"—also known as "The President's March"—was once considered an unofficial national anthem of the United States, before "Star Spangled Banner" was declared the official anthem in 1931.

Who Wrote "Hail, Columbia"?

The melody of this song is attributed to Philip Phile and the lyrics to Joseph Hopkinson. Not much is known about Phile, except that he was a violinist who led an orchestra called the Old American Company.

He composed the melody to what was then known as "The President's March." On the other hand, Joseph Hopkinson (1770-1842) was a lawyer and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives who in 1828 became a federal district judge in Pennsylvania. In 1798, Hopkinson wrote the lyrics to "Hail Columbia" using the melody of "The President's March."

George Washington's Inauguration

"Hail, Columbia" was written and performed for George Washington’s inauguration in 1789. In 1801, New Year's Day, President John Adams invited the United States Marine Band to perform at the White House. The band is believed to have performed "Hail, Columbia" during the event.

Other Performances of "Hail, Columbia"

In 1801, during a Fourth of July gala, Thomas Jefferson invited the U.S. Marine Band to perform. It is also believed that the band played the song on this occasion. Since then, "Hail Columbia" was often played at the White House during formal events.

The Song Today:

Today, "Hail, Columbia" is played whenever the Vice-President of the United States arrives at a ceremony or as he enters a formal event; much like the function of "Hail to the Chief" at the arrival of the President. A short piece titled "Ruffles and Flourishes" is played before the song.

"Hail, Columbia" Trivia

Joseph Hopkinson was the son of Francis Hopkinson, one of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence. President Grover Cleveland (served from 1885–1889 and 1893–1897) and President William Howard Taft (served from 1909–1913) reportedly didn't like the song.

The Lyrics

Here's a short excerpt of the song:

Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, 
heav'n-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
And when the storm of war was gone
Enjoy'd the peace your valor won.
Let independence be our boast,
Ever mindful what it cost;
Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.

Listen to "Hail, Columbia"

Can't remember how the song goes? Listen to "Hail, Columbia" or ​watch the video on YouTube.