The American Constitution Frigate’s Engagement with the British Frigate Guerriere
To the victors go the spoils – and the songs. This awkward but enthusiastic little ditty captures Bostonians’ excitement about USS Constitution’s victory over HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812. In eight stanzas the unidentified author details the American frigate’s wartime exploits. From beginning to end, this is a popular expression of esteem for Captain Isaac Hull and his gallant crew. Devoid of classical allusions or complicated meters so favored by elite poets of the day, the words capture the sentiments of the American sailor and the man on the street. Sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” the song resonates with the pride and confidence the victory engendered. In those few minutes of action against the British warship, the Boston-built frigate earned for herself the nickname “Old Ironsides.” And as the second stanza correctly predicted, “The Constitution long shall be/ The glory of our Navy.”
Though not explicitly stated, the poem’s rhythm and chorus make it clear that it was sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle.” It is a tune with nebulous roots, but perhaps dates to the French and Indian War of the mid-18th century. British troops sung its familiar nonsense lyrics during the American Revolution to deride the colonists. In another act of rebellion, soldiers and citizens of the new United States took it as their own, using its mocking words as a weapon in the propaganda war. This sheet, like other broadsides of the time, may have been posted publicly or distributed door to door.