“United we stand, divided we fall” is a phrase that is likely familiar to most people, and it is widely recognized as the motto of the Bluegrass State, Kentucky. The phrase has been attributed to the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop and in his fable “The Four Oxen and the Lion.” And the Bible refers to the principle in Mark 3:25 to read, “And if a house be divided against itself it cannot stand,” as well as something similar in the books of Matthew and Luke. Though ancient Greek and Christian Biblical references exist, in terms of U.S. History, the words take origin in the pre-Revolutionary ballad, “The Liberty Song,” whose lyrics were written by Founding Father John Dickinson. The song is set to the tune of “Heart of Oak,” the anthem of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom. Words are as follows:
Come, join in hand, brave Americans all,
And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty’s call;
No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim,
Or stain with dishonour America’s name.
(Chorus) In Freedom we’re born and in Freedom we’ll live.
Our purses are ready. Steady, friends, steady;
Not as slaves, but as Freemen our money we’ll give.
Our worthy forefathers, let’s give them a cheer,
To climates unknown did courageously steer;
Threw’ oceans to deserts for Freedom they came,
And dying, bequeth’d us their freedom and fame
How sweet are the labours that free men endur,
That men shall enjoy the sweet profit secure.
No more sweet labors americans know,
If brittash shall reap what americans sow.
Their generous bosoms all dangers despis’d,
So highly, so wisely, their Birthrights they priz’d;
We’ll keep what they gave, we will piously keep,
Nor frustrate their toils on the land and the deep.
The tree their own hands had to Liberty rear’d;
They lived to behold growing strong and revered;
With transport they cried, “Now our wishes we gain,
For our children shall gather the fruits of our pain.”
Swarms of placemen and pensioners soon will appear
Like locusts deforming the charms of the year;
Suns vainly will rise, showers vainly descend,
If we are to drudge for what others shall defend.
Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;
In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed,
For heaven approves of each generous deed.
All ages shall speak with amaze and applause,
Of the courage we’ll show in support of our Laws:
To die we can bear, but to serve we disdain.
For same is to Freedom more dreadful than pain.
This bumper I crown for our Sovereign’s health,
And this for Birttania’s glory and wealth;
That wealth and that glory immortal may be,
If She is but Just, and if we are but Free.
John Dickinson was one of the leaders of the American Revolution and a famous lawyer and Governor of Delaware and Pennsylvania. This early patriotic song was penned by Dickinson in 1768, stirred by the Townshend Acts of 1767, the latest of a series of British Crown taxes levied on the Colonies. The lyrics were reprinted throughout the colonies and sung as a patriotic song at political meetings, dinners, and celebrations. Later, the words would resonate in the form of resistance, with some lyrics adapted. Within the song, the words, “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall,” delivers a message of unity and collaboration toward a just cause, which in this case is freedom.
The phrase would go on to leave an indelible mark on history, with Kentucky including it on their official seal and adopting it as their state motto. Patrick Henry would use the motto to denounce arguments made by the Kentucky and Virginia legislature in favor of states’ rights over federal authority. Abraham Lincoln would also use a version of this idea in 1858, when he gave a speech centered on the House divided analogy to gain a universal decision on slavery. Winston Churchill would also use the phrase in 1941 in a broadcast from London to the U.S. on receiving an honorary degree from the University of Rochester. Today, musicians keep the motto alive in modern day song lyrics and the core concept is used by unions and political groups to set the framework of teamwork and to push for unity.
We’d like to thank Elizabeth T. for submission of this idea for an article.