The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXVI. Patriotic Songs and Hymns

§ 3. Hail Columbia

The story of Hail Columbia is an almost complete contrast with that of Yankee Doodle, the chief point in common being that the music preceded the words. The President’s March, probably composed by Philip Phile, a Philadelphia violinist, was popular in 1794 within a year of its production. In 1798 an actor, Gilbert Fox, applied to Joseph Hopkinson, accomplished son of the talented Francis, for a patriotic song adapted to The President’s March, to be sung by Fox at a personal benefit performance, for which the prospects of a good house were discouraging. Hopkinson wrote in behalf of a unified country at a moment when, according to Freneau’s The Rival Suitors for America, party claims were creating a dangerous rift through conflicting sympathies with France and England. Hail Columbia, as introduced by Fox, was a favourite from the start. It was encored a dozen times. It was repeated at other theatres, and on “circus nights.” It was printed in The Porcupine Gazette three days later, 28 April, in the May number of The Philadelphia Magazine, in The Connecticut Courant of 7 May. “Soon no public entertainment was considered satisfactory without it”; and it has continued in use without textual change until the present day.