“God of Our Fathers” is a 19th-century American hymn, written in 1876 for the 100th anniversary of the United States Declaration of Independence celebration in Brandon, Vermont. The hymn (text) was written by Daniel Crane Roberts and the hymn tune (music) was written by George William Warren. The hymn tune is called “National Hymn”
The hymn was written by Daniel Crane Roberts. Roberts (b. Bridgehampton, Long Island, NY, 1841; d. Concord, NH, 1907) was educated at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio and when the Civil War started in 1861 he joined the Union Army as a member of the 84th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Roberts, who in 1876 was serving as rector of St. Thomas & Grace Episcopal churches in Brandon, was asked to write a song for the people to sing during the Centennial celebration. He agreed to do so and the result was “God of Our Fathers.”
Roberts was ordained in the Protestant Episcopal Church as a priest in 1866 and ministered to several congregations in Vermont and Massachusetts. In 1878 he began a ministry at St. Paul Church in Concord, New Hampshire, that lasted for twenty-three years. Serving for many years president of the New Hampshire State Historical Society, Roberts once wrote, “I remain a country parson, known only within my small world,” but his hymn “God of Our Fathers” brought him widespread recognition. He received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Norwich University in 1885.
In 1892, Roberts sent the hymn anonymously to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to be considered by a group tasked with revising the Episcopal hymnal. If the group accepted his hymn, Roberts said he would send them his name. The commission approved it.
In 1892 the hymn (text) was included in the Protestant Episcopal Hymnal.
The first musical setting of “God Of Our Fathers” was to the hymn tune of Pro Patria by Horatio W. Parker in 1892. This is not the familiar setting we are used to. The setting was dropped in favor of the setting by the next year. There is reference on many websites that the hymn “God Of Our Fathers” was originally set to the hymn tune “Russian Hymn”. A comparison of the hymn tune below with the music to “Russian Hymn” will show it does not quite fit. Plus, it is a different meter.
The hymn tune Pro Patria remained in hymnals as O Lord of Life, Thy Kingdom is at Hand.
Horatio Parker was born in Auburndale, Massachusetts, on September 15, 1863. He received his earliest musical training from his mother, Isabella Jennings Parker, who instructed him in piano, organ, and music theory. He went on to study with pianist John Orth, theorist Stephen Emery, and composer George Chadwick, with whom Parker maintained a lifelong friendship. Although he began composing small pieces during this early period, Parker’s first major works were composed under the tutelage of Josef Rheinberger while he was attending the Hochschule für Musik in Munich from 1882 to 1885.
From 1885 to 1893, Parker worked as organist and choirmaster at a series of churches in New York: St. Luke ‘s in Brooklyn, St. Andrew’s in Harlem, and the Church of the Holy Trinity in Manhattan. His church music career in New York led to the composition and publication of a significant number of anthems and other sacred works. Parker’s increasing recognition as a prominent young composer culminated in 1893, when he received the National Conservatory prize in composition for his cantata Dream-King and His Love and the Church Choral Society of New York commission and performance of his oratorio, Hora novissima.
Parker left New York in the fall of 1893 to take a position at Boston’s Trinity Church. After only one year in Boston, he relocated to New Haven, Connecticut, to accept the Battell Professorship in music at Yale University. Parker’s new career direction, in a faculty position that he would hold through the end of his life, established him as a leading educator of young American composers. His students at Yale included Charles Ives, Seth Bingham, Quincy Porter, and Roger Sessions. Parker became dean of the School of Music at Yale University in 1904.
Parker passed away on December 18, 1919
Below is the new setting of God of Our Fathers set by George William Warren. Note that there is a second setting by Elias Henry Johnson, (1841-1906).
Johnson was born at Troy, N.Y., Oct. 15, 1841, and graduated at Rochester. After acting for two years as assistant paymaster in the U.S. Navy he was ordained to the Baptist Ministry, and served in several pastorates. He edited Songs of Praise for Sunday Schools, 1882; was assistant editor of the Baptist Hymnal, 1883; and also editor of Our Sunday School Songs, 1885, and Sursum Corda, 1898. He is also the author of several prose works. His hymn, “Father almighty, trembling I bow to Thee” (Holy Trinity), in Sursum Corda, 1898, No. 314, is dated 1867. [Rev. L. F. Benson, D.D.]
George William Warren (b. Albany, NY, 1828; d. New York, 1902) received his general education at Racine College in Wisconsin, but as a musician he was largely self-trained. An organist in a number of Episcopal churches, he played the organ for thirty years (1870-1900) at St. Thomas Church in New York City. Warren composed anthems and liturgical service music; his hymn tunes were collected in Warren’s Hymns and Tunes as Sung in St. Thomas Church (1888).
Warren wrote a new tune called “National Hymn.”
1. God of our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band.
Of Shining worlds in splendor through the skies
Our grateful songs, before thy throne arise.
2. Thy Love divine hath led us in the past.
In this free land by thee our lot is cast.
Be thou our ruler, guardian, guide, and stay.
Thy Word Our Law, thy Paths our chosen ways.
3. From wars alarms, from deadly pestilence,
Be thy Strong arm our ever sure defense;
Thy true religion in our hearts increase,
Thy Bounteous goodness, nourish us in peace.
4. Refresh thy people on their toilsome way;
Lead us from night, to never ending day;
Fill all our lives, with love and grace divine,
|And glory, laud, and praise be ever thine.
Because of its use in that national celebration, the song became widely known among Americans. As hymnals are being published, most of them include “God of Our Fathers.” The three-part fanfare at the beginning of each verse and during each interlude adds greatly to the spirit of the song.
This arrangement for brass ensemble is a transcription of an arrangement Chief Master Sergeant Floyd Werle did for the United States Air Force Band Ceremonial Brass in the 1980.
In 1981 an arrangement was made by Thomas Knox of the US Marine Band and performed at the Inauguration of President Ronal Reagan. “The ink on the new arrangement was barely dry on January 20, 1981, when the Marine Band performed the dramatic music between the oaths taken by the new Vice President and President. Knox’s inventive setting of the moving hymn was so brilliantly crafted that the work soon became a staple in the Marine Band’s repertoire and has been used for numerous significant national events over the past three decades, including the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982 and the Congressional Prayer Vigil held in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda the day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.”-Program Note by the United State Marine Band
We seek the wisdom and guidance of the Almighty to prepare us for our lives. Presidents have always invoked Gods name. Washington referred to “that Almighty Being,” Adams invoked “His providence,” and Jefferson spoke of “that Being in whose hands we are.”
“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.”-Abraham Lincoln