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No one cheered. It was more like a moment to say, ‘Amen.’ But no one quite knew what to do – Then Pa began to sing. All at once everyone was singing: ‘My country, ’tis of thee’… — Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 8, “Fourth of July”

America was written by Reverend Samuel F. Smith in 1832. The tune was first attributed to a German named Siegfried August Mahlmann around 1740 and was called “Gott segne Sachsenland” (“God Bless Our Native Land”). The same tune was used in England, Scandinavia, and the United States. In 1832, American Samuel F. Smith wrote “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” to be sung to Mahlmann’s tune. Rev. Smith wrote in 1832 that he was looking at German music and was attracted to the tune “God Save the King.” Not understanding the German lyrics but knowing them to be patriotic, he wrote the now-familiar words in a single afternoon. It was first performed in public at a July 4, 1832 children’s concert in Boston.

Many handwritten copies of Rev. Smith’s lyrics exist; he was careful to preserve both wording and punctuation in each copy he signed. Originally, there was a fifth verse (see below; third verse). The title “America” wasn’t included on Smith’s handwritten copies until 1890, although sheet music had been published using this title in the 1860s.

Samuel Francis Smith (1808-1895) was born and died in Boston. He attended Harvard University and Andover Theological Seminary; he became a Baptist minister in 1832, the same year “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was penned. In the 1850s he became editor of the publications of the Baptist Missionary Union.

In the existing manuscript for Little Town on the Prairie, “America” is not sung at the Fourth of July celebration in De Smet. Instead, a group of singers stands on the platform and sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.” The Fourth of July celebration scene in the manuscript is quite similar to the one taking place in Walnut Grove in Pioneer Girl. No Fourth of July celebration was included in the published On the Banks of Plum Creek.


1. My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside,
Let freedom ring!

2. My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.

[this verse later removed by Smith]
No more shall tyrants here
With haughty steps appear
And soldier bands.
Above the patriot dead
No more out blood be shed
By alien hands.

3. Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees,
Sweet freedom’s song;
Let all that breathes partake;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

4. Our fathers’ God, to thee,
Author of liberty, to thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King.

AMERICA (from Little Town on the Prairie)

My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing…

Long may our land be bright
With Freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

CLICK HERE to listen.



Click on the images above to view a copy of 1860s sheet music of “America.”

This music is archived in the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, part of Special Collections at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library of The Johns Hopkins University. The collection contains over 29,000 pieces of music and focuses on popular American music from 1780-1960.    


“America” (LTP 8)
     “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty”