RedState's Water Cooler - July 22, 2018 - Open Thread - "Mercy More Than Life"

Today is one of those fun days in the RedState Department of History. In our never ending search for anniversaries, sometimes patriotic music comes into play and today is one of those days.


Katharine Lee Bates was born in Massachusetts. She was a minister’s daughter and a member of the second female graduating class of Wellesley  College in Massachusetts in 1880, where she later earned a doctorate.

But it was when she taught English in Colorado just before the turn of the 20th Century that her work became part of the national consciousness. She taught at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, when one day she decided to take a trip to the top of nearby Pikes’ Peak, with friends.

14,000 feet later, she reached the summit and looked down at a vast expanse in front of her. Instead of moving Bates to tears, it moved her to words:

“We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.”

And write she did. The four-stanza poem she wrote later became known as “America the Beautiful“, and it was written on this day in 1893.

Yet words alone were not enough. At first, “America the Beautiful” was simply a poem, until, eleven years after Bates wrote it, the words were joined with music written by Samuel A. Ward, a church organist who died in 1903 — one year before his music met Bates’ four stanzas.

The result was a combination which many feel is our unofficial national anthem:


O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

It’s interesting to note that two of America’s most beloved national hymns – America the Beautiful and The Battle Hymn of the Republic, earned their authors less than ten dollars combined. Julia Ward Howe sold her work to the Atlantic Monthly during the Civil War for four dollars, and Bates only received five dollars when she sold her poem for initial publication. Ward’s estate received nothing at all for his music.

And even then, Bates’ work was not initially well received. The New York Times reviewed her 1912 book “America the Beautiful and Other Poems,” thus:


“We intend no derogation to Miss Katharine Lee Bates when we say that she is a good minor poet.”

Bates was committed to equality and justice for her entire life and was a Republican for most of it. She split with the party in 1924 when the party platform would not support joining the League of Nations.

The song was one of three considered for the official designation of national anthem in 1931 along with “My Country “Tis Of Thee” and, of course, “The Star Spangled Banner.” President Herbert Hoover made the final choice and to this day there are still petitions asking the government to reconsider.

One of those people who supported the change was Ray Charles, who performed my favorite version of the song. His reasoning was simple: “Honestly, wouldn’t you rather sing about the beauty of America?” he asked.

Bates died in 1929, while listening to a friend read poetry to her. She was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1970.

Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!



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