Music

Constitution on the Sea

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Constitution on the Sea
by Tim Griffin, copyright 2011

Here’s a tale of the frigate that secured our navy’s fame
A mighty ship of war and Constitution is her name
She was built of pine and Georgia oak to keep our country free
She’s the mighty Constitution of the sea

With four hundred fifty sailors armed with cannons forty four
But when she sailed the line she carried fifty guns or more
Fitted out with copper hardware that was forged by Paul Revere
Seventeen and ninety-seven was the year

When we told the tyrants far and wide, Constitution’s on the tide
The power and the symbol of a free people’s pride
And make no mistake about what keeps our people free
It’s the Bill of Rights on land and Constitution on the sea

When some despot shuns our diplomats and no appeal he’ll hear
He’ll hasten to negotiate when Constitution’s near
He will listen well to reason and we’ll know the reason why
With the mighty Constitution standing by

And when it comes to piracy she makes it plain as day
In Tunis and in Tripoli, no ransom will we pay
Honest merchants pay no tribute to the lords of Barbary
While the mighty Constitution’s on the sea

So tell the tyrants far and wide, Constitution’s on the tide
The power and the symbol of a free people’s pride
And make no mistake about what keeps our people free
It’s diplomacy on land and Constitution on the sea

When the British came in 1812 they thought that we would run
We ran them up and down the coast and had a lot of fun
Constitution took their fire and shrugged their cannon shots aside
That was when she earned her nickname of Old Ironsides

We tangled with the Guerriere and spun each other ‘round
And when we finally came undone, the British main came down
Thus we led the royal Guerriere a rough and rowdy dance
‘Til her captain begged surrender and a cleaner pair of pants

So tell the tyrants far and wide, Constitution’s on the tide
The power and the symbol of a free people’s pride
And make no mistake about what keeps our people free
It’s the rule of law on land and Constitution on the sea

Now our rights are made in writing but that isn’t how they’re won
On land we need the court of law, at sea we need the gun
So our rights are still defended as they’ve been through all of time
By the brave men and women with their lives upon the line

And so the Constitution serves her country still today
Though more modern ships patrol the sea, they guard us the same way
So remember when you see the Constitution and her crew
That she’s more than just a frigate, she’s our freedom on the blue

So tell the tyrants far and wide, Constitution’s on the tide
The power and the symbol of a free people’s pride
And make no mistake about what keeps our people free
It’s the Bill of Rights on land, diplomacy on land,
The rule of law on land and Constitution on the sea

Print Notes Notes

The USS Constitution is a pretty awesome frigate; if you haven't seen her you should go check out the USS Constitution Museum next time you're in the Boston area.

A note to my British friends: I am very much an Anglophile; if some of my history songs sound rather anti-British, please understand I am trying to capture the feel of a period of our history where our countries did not get along so well. Really, I am delighted that we get along so well nowadays and I look forward to my next visit to your lovely island.

Suggestions for teachers:
-Note that the Common Core doesn't really get into content for history, so use your judgment about whether and when to do this song with your students if you are outside of California.
-Teachers, take care that your students understand the USS Constitution (the ship) and the US Constitution (the owner's manual for the federal government) are two totally different things!
-Although this song technically meets the standards for grades K-1 in California, you may find it too violent for your students; use your judgment.

Here are some standards for the state of California addressed by this song:

Kindergarten:
CA.HSS.K.2. Students recognize national and state symbols and icons such as the national and state flags, the bald eagle, and the Statue of Liberty.
CA.HSS.K.3 Students match simple descriptions of work that people do and the names of related jobs at the school, in the local community, and from historical ac­ counts.
CA.HSS.K.6.1 Identify the purposes of, and the people and events honored in, commemorative holidays, including the human struggles that were the basis for the events (e.g., Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day).

First Grade:
CA.HSS.1.3 Students know and understand the symbols, icons, and traditions of the United States that provide continuity and a sense of community across time.
CA.HSS.1.3.3 Identify American symbols, landmarks, and essential documents, such as the flag, bald eagle, Statue of Liberty, U.S. Constitution, and Declaration of Independence, and know the people and events associated with them.

Eighth Grade:
CA.HSS.8.5.1 Understand the political and economic causes and consequences of the War of 1812 and know the major battles, leaders, and events that led to a final peace.

Chords: C, G, C7, F, Am