Memorial Day: Let Us Remember the Why in Addition to the Who

“’America the Beautiful’ is most decidedly not just about our country’s physical beauty. It’s not a hymn about the landscape but a humble prayer to the Creator…. It’ a plea, an entreaty, not a boast. In fact, it’s deeply conservative, asking the Almighty’s assistance in mending our flaws, in helping us avoid libertinism, in avoiding boastfulness. All in all, a fitting song for a republic.” Mark Krikorian (2014)

Where Our Anthem, America the Beautiful, Was Born: Pikes Peak

America the Beautiful, the lyrics we have all grown to cherish, was not written as a song, but as a poem. In 1893 Katharine Lee Bates, a young English Literature teacher at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, came to the words on Pike’s Peak in Colorado. As she wrote:

“One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. 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.”

The words, she said, just “floated into my mind.”

The year, 1893, was a troubled year, known as the “Panic of 1893,” when a run on the Treasury’s gold, creating a credit crunch that sent America into a financial depression. The depression lasted until 1897.

Ms. Bates had been able to arrange her once-in-a lifetime trip to Colorado to teach a summer course at Colorado College, traveling from Massachusetts to Chicago and its World’s Fair [celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of America], where “cities gleam,” through the Midwest with wheat fields and their “amber waves of grain,” to Pike’s Peak and its “purple mountain majesties.” On that defining trip, she traversed across almost our entire nation, “from sea to shining sea.”

Ms. Bates first published the poem in 1895, as “America: a poem for July 4.” It was an instant success.

In 1904 music written in 1882 by church organist Samuel Augustus Howe, who died in 1903, posthumously became the sacred music for the poem. The result became a national hymn.

Ms. Bates wrote that the “hold it has on our people is clearly due to the fact that Americans are idealists at heart.” [Emphasis added.]

Lynn Sherr wrote in 2001 in “America the Beautiful: The Stirring Story Behind Our Nation’s Favorite Song:”

“Music is the universal language of emotion. Men will sing what they would be shamed faced to say…. It is not food for the soul, but wine… the most portable of all religious things. No external equipment is required. Singing it becomes an almost sacramental experience – a moment of transcendence and timelessness, a source of comfort and strength…. If George M. Cohen’s ‘Over There’ was the jaunty theme that took [America] to war [WWI], ‘America the Beautiful’ was what they were fighting for. It was the song that brought them home.”

For more than 125 years, America the Beautiful has stirred our deepest emotions and sense of patriotism, pulling us together in trying times as one people. America the Beautiful was sung on the White House grounds after Pearl Harbor. America the Beautiful was sung in New York at Ground Zero after 9/11.

And today, on this Memorial Day, as unnecessary factions divide us, each of us need to sing it again. Loud and Clear. And whereever possible, Together! It’s time to pull together as one people.

America the Beautiful is more than spiritual tribute to our Nation’s wonders and our heroic, pioneering beginnings. The song is a prayer for the future.

The lyrics:

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 of 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!

Please take a couple of minutes. Savor the video that follows. Rejoice in the music.

Make America Great by Making America Beautiful, not just in its amber fields of grain, its specious mountain majesties and its fruited plains. But in its spirit. In our spirit. In our heart. Be a Real American. Dwell within the spirit of America the Beautiful.


“The world will not be destroyed by those who do it evil, but by those who watch without doing anything.” Albert Einstein, circa 1954

Our becoming active in a positive, helpful way is the driving theme of American the Beautiful and also of Democracy of Dollars, now available in electronic, paperback and hardcover on line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

If you’d like a signed copy of Democracy of Dollars:

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Thanks for sharing! A good history lesson and message

Thank you, Dick, for sharing your Memorial message with me. What an inspiring, patriotic and uniting message that reminds all of us what makes America exceptionally beautiful!

A great tribute. Thanks. I did not know the full history of the poem.

Thank you, Jake. A stirring and necessary reminder

I never realized America the Beautiful was a poem first. Very inspirational . 

Hi Dick,

Your words are somehow always inspiring and carry a message safely protected in your prose. Your new book is a must-read and I am pleased to have been a participant in its publication. Cheers