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Inauguration Music of Yesteryear

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"The President's March" by Philip Phile, composed for George Washington's inauguration in 1789 (this edition is from c. 1814).
“The President’s March” by Philip Phile, composed for George Washington’s inauguration in 1789 (this edition is from c. 1814).

On Friday, January 20, 2017, the Presidential Inauguration will take place and the President-elect will officially begin his duties as the 45th President of the United States. As we prepare for this political ritual, I thought it might be interesting to share some examples of music composed for and about specific presidential inaugurations from long ago, direct out of the Library’s music collections. And where better to start than at the very beginning with our first president, the “venerated Virginian veteran” George Washington.


In 1789, George Washington journeyed from Mount Vernon, Virginia to New York City for America’s first presidential inauguration. Along the way, numerous celebrations were planned in his honor, including one in Trenton, New Jersey on April 21. At this Trenton ceremony, Washington and his onlookers heard a new tune composed for the occasion by German-American violinist and composer Philip Phile (Pfeil): “The President’s March.” If you can read music then you may recognize the tune to another patriotic piece — in 1798, John Hopkinson (son of inventor/composer/scholar/signer of the Declaration of Independence Francis Hopkinson) added new words to Phile’s tune, resulting in the popular song “Hail Columbia.” For a substantial period of time, “Hail Columbia” was played as the de facto national anthem of the United States.

"Jefferson's March," performed at Jefferson's first inauguration as well as for the "Grand Procession at Philadelphia on 4th of March 1801."
“Jefferson’s March,” performed at Jefferson’s first inauguration as well as for the “Grand Procession at Philadelphia on 4th of March 1801.”


We have two pieces significant to Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration. Jefferson’s first inauguration, the first one to happen in the new capital of Washington, DC, took place on March 4, 1801. (Why March 4? See this recent Library of Congress blog post!) It marks the first time that the Marine Band performed at a presidential inauguration, a tradition that has continued at every presidential inauguration since. “The President’s Own” (a nickname that Jefferson himself bestowed upon the ensemble) performed an original composition by an anonymous composer, “Jefferson’s March,” written for and premiered at the big event.

"The People's Friend" composed by John Hawkins.
“The People’s Friend” composed by John Hawkins.







Another song, John Hawkins’ “The People’s Friend,” was “Written & Composed for the Celebration of the 4th of March 1801” (notice the music is by Hawkins and the words are attributed to “a Citizen”).  While we have no documentation proving that the tune was performed at the ceremony, we know for a fact that the song was very popular at the time of Jefferson’s inauguration, with some reports that the music was sung in the streets: “What joyful prospects rise before! Peace, Arts and Science hail our Shore, And thro’ the Country spread – Long may these blessings be preserved And by a virtuous Land deserv’d, With JEFFERSON our head.”

"Madison's March" composed by Philip Munro, 1809.
“Madison’s March” composed by Philip Munro, 1809.




James Madison was inaugurated as the fourth President of the United States on Saturday, March 4, 1809 in Washington, DC. In our collections resides “Madison’s March,” composed by Philip Mauro. The 1809 sheet music is printed with a note that reads, “This is the March, that the President and his Lady were Serenaded with, by the City Band, the 4th of March 1809, the day of his Inauguration.” In his book, The Fourth of July Encyclopedia, James R. Heintze writes that “Madison’s March” “became one of the most popular [tunes] in its day and was played frequently on Independence Day in cities and towns across the country.” (page 178)





William Henry Harrison, our ninth president, was inaugurated as President of the United States on March 4, 1841. Harrison’s inauguration stands out for featuring the longest inaugural address in American history, as it took the president approximately two hours to deliver. And while his inaugural address remains the longest one in American history, his presidency reigns as the shortest, brought to a premature close by his fatal illness and unexpected death on April 4, 1841 – one month after his inauguration. “President Harrison’s Grand Inauguration March” was written by Henry Dielman in 1841. Dielman, a German-American, was in fact the first composer to receive a doctor of music degree in America (Georgetown University conferred the degree). He composed several “inaugural marches” as well as a funeral march for William Henry Harrison.

"President Harrison's Grand Inauguration March" composed by Henry Dielman, 1841.
“President Harrison’s Grand Inauguration March” composed by Henry Dielman, 1841.

Harrison Grand Inauguration March (3)














What is particularly captivating about this sheet music, aside from its original historic context, is the way it connects to another president. On the music’s cover is a manuscript note from Carrie May Dockery to the Honorable Benjamin Harrison, grandson of William Henry Harrison and 23rd President of the United States. Dockery, daughter of Republican nominee for Governor of North Carolina (Oliver Hart Dockery, who ultimately lost to Daniel Gould Fowle), addresses Benjamin Harrison on July 21, 1888, writing that she found the piece amongst her family’s old music and hopes that “you will be pleased to accept with my compliments, trusting that it may likewise commemorate the inauguration of his illustrious Grandson.” Benjamin Harrison won the Republican nomination at the 1888 Republican National Convention held on June 19-25, just about one month before Dockery signed her note on the sheet music.  In the midst of his campaigning, it’s charming to think that the younger Harrison might have enjoyed this historic sheet music as a visual and musical connection between his legacy and a hopeful future.

This small sample of inauguration-related music provides a degree of insight into the significance music plays and the interest it holds in our country’s illustrious history, and there is so much more to discover. To learn more about the musical side of presidential campaigns, peruse our digitized Presidential Campaign Song holdings. The United States Marine Band will be performing at the upcoming Inauguration as it has for over two centuries; read more about the ensemble’s famous leader and military march composer John Philip Sousa in a special online presentation. And finally, if questions arise in conversation this week surrounding the history of specific patriotic tunes, you can feel confident referring to our Patriotic Melodies song histories, with links to digitized content.

Comments (2)

  1. We Americans have always had a good sense of humor when it comes to politics

  2. Interesting article. For those of us without music skills it would be interesting to have a link to hear a simple piano rendition of tbe page shown.

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