Ye soldiers of Freedom, then strike, while strike ye may,Recalling that the Battle Hymn of the Republic is derived from the song John Brown's Body, the recent performance of the Battle Hymn during the Second Inaugural of 2012 makes it a sign that should resonate at several levels since it was not featured as prominently in the program of the First Inaugural of 2008. The Battle Hymn is a call to action as much of the speech today signified but it also has a historical context called to mind in the current showing by PBS of a three-part series on the Abolitionist movement and indicates perhaps for Progressives the hope for the second term.
The death blow of oppression in a better time and way,
For the dawn of old John Brown has brightened into day,
And his soul is marching on.
The tune was also used for perhaps the most well known union song in the United States, Solidarity Forever. The song became an anthem of the Industrial Workers of the World and all unions that sought more than workplace concessions, but a world run by those who labor.
Having once worked at a predominantly African American institution, I noted that the Battle Hymn has a meaning that is more than a Christian hymn but a call to activism in its performative presence at most ceremonies. It is as important as the presence in many of the President's speeches of the expression "Lift Every Voice" which refers to the Negro National Anthem
Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,
While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;
But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,
His soul is marching on.
And in 1910, Teddy Roosevelt came here to Osawatomie and he laid out his vision for what he called a New Nationalism. “Our country,” he said, “…means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy…of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.” (Applause.)
Now, for this, Roosevelt was called a radical. He was called a socialist -- (laughter) -- even a communist. But today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what he fought for in his last campaign: an eight-hour work day and a minimum wage for women -- (applause) -- insurance for the unemployed and for the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax. (Applause.)
Today, over 100 years later, our economy has gone through another transformation. Over the last few decades, huge advances in technology have allowed businesses to do more with less, and it’s made it easier for them to set up shop and hire workers anywhere they want in the world. And many of you know firsthand the painful disruptions this has caused for a lot of Americans.