"Yankee Doodle"

Less than 3 minute read

July 5, 2019

Around the Fourth of July, we hear a lot of songs about all the great things about America: “God Bless America,” “God Bless The USA,” “America the Beautiful.”  All week long, our resident musicologist Pat Reeder has been reminding us that there are many more we seldom hear. But before them all, even before “The Star-Spangled Banner,” there was the original American patriotic anthem, “Yankee Doodle.” But it didn’t start out as a celebration of Americans, but as a mockery of them.

Since 1776, the song “Yankee Doodle” has been as much a symbol of America as the flag.  Every child learns it from the cradle. But many of us grew up without ever knowing what it really means.  Like, why did he call his cap macaroni?  Did he use cheese for hair mousse?  Well, I’ll finally give you the answers to those questions and more.

“Yankee Doodle” actually dates back long before 1776.  It most likely started as a German nursery rhyme, since “dudel” is an Old German word for “fool.”  It first became associated with America when British soldiers made up their own lyrics to it to mock the ragtag American Revolutionaries. That baffling line – “stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” – makes sense when you know that a macaroni wig was one of those ridiculously large powdered wigs that dandies of the time wore. The Brits were ridiculing Americans as a bunch of hayseeds, so dumb they’d think sticking a feather in their hat would make them look sophisticated. Imagine a Huffington Post article about Trump voters from Alabama, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of just how much arrogant condescension they intended to convey with that. 

Unfortunately for the British, it turned out wars weren’t settled according to who had the spiffiest uniforms (in fact, red coats just made you a brighter target.) Those unfashionable Americans were fighting for their homes, their families and their freedom.  So they did what Americans have done ever since: they took the ridicule aimed at them, threw it back in the faces of those who mocked them, and got the last laugh. 

The Americans took the song “Yankee Doodle” that was meant to belittle them and adopted it as their anthem.  They marched to it in the streets, sang it in bars, and made up their own new lyrics to promote the cause of freedom and glorify leaders like General Washington, “upon his strapping stallion.” It wasn’t long before the British learned to dread the sound of that tune, especially when it was played on a fife and drum, accompanied by American militiamen.  A Boston newspaper reported that Minutemen who captured two British officers forced them to dance to “Yankee Doodle” until they collapsed.  After that, the Brits admitted that that mocking little song didn’t sound so sweet to them anymore. 

Well, now you know how “Yankee Doodle” came to be the unofficial American battle anthem that later inspired another great patriotic song for this time of year, George M. Cohan’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”  As Cohan proudly sang, “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, a Yankee Doodle, do or die…A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam, Born on the Fourth of July!” 

Of course, Cohan was actually born on the third of July.  But that’s another story for another day. 

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Comments 1-17 of 17

  • Michael R Brannick

    07/18/2019 10:52 PM

    I really am a Yankee Doodle Dandy. I WAS born on the Fourth of July. Thanks to my sister. My parents ere driving to pick up my grandmother at the bus or train station and my sister, sitting in the back seat, did something "bad" so my mother turned around in her seat to smack her which pulled something and broke her water and apparently started contractions. It being the Fourth all the doctors were on vacation. Luckily the found one willing to deliver me. Being the curious sort I tried to see where I was going. Unfortunately my face was too big to fit through the birth canal so he was forced to do a caesarian section to get me out; on the Fourth of July. Oh, I have an uncle named Sam, too. I am also an Air Force brat, an Air Force Academy graduate, I'm married to an Air Force brat with whom I have three Air Force brats (though two of them went wrong and served in the Navy), and a retired Air Force Major/B-52 pilot.

  • Nelda White

    07/07/2019 11:51 AM

    Im glad to learn this and now my grandchildren will know this also. Thank you.

  • Dorothy Gunter

    07/06/2019 08:19 PM

    Sounds like they took Yankee Doodle the way we take “deplorables”. ??

  • PATRICK LLOYD

    07/06/2019 04:19 PM

    The Movie Stripes, Summed it up with the Term "American Mutt"! Out of a History of Oppression, Slavery, War, Abuse, Poverty, Persecution, and Tyranny! Those who Survived to never be Defeated were a New Multi Breed, Multi Capable, Undefeatable, Brotherhood of Diversity That Defined Life as Freedom and Liberty! Faith as the Power over the Fear of Tyranny and Injustice! Very Well Documented by the Words: Give me Liberty or Give me Death! So I must feel that those who do not Realize How Great America is from its History, Faith, and Courage to Overcome Every Form of Tyranny to ever Exist! Are Cowards in the Brief Minutes between Birth and Death! God Created Humanity with Built in Inalienable Rights that can not be Defeated in Life and Gave them a Book of Guidance and Faith on How to Live Life that can not be Equaled for Believers or Non-Believers! Throughout History Faithless Money Changer Governments of Tyranny have Tried to Replace God by Trying to Deprive and Strip Humanity of those Rights that can only be Defeated in Death! This has caused the Wars of Humanity and the Extinctions of Civilizations Throughout Human History! While one Chosen Man or Group can Lead Humanity, No Unchosen Man or Group can Force Rule over Humanity as if People are Owned Possessions for any Endless Amount of Time! Because that is the Persecution, Tyranny, and Stripping of those God Given Rights that are the Nature of Humanity, That Man can not live Without! At this time on Earth We are once again Experiencing the Catastrophic Effects of the Mad Rising Once again in the attempt to Take and Establish Ownership of Humanity and Those Built in God Given Rights of Freedom and Liberty! History Shows that the End Results will be Catastrophic and the Rules and Liberties under which those who Survive will Live! Will Once Yet again be Reestablished with Humanities God Given Rights Still in Tact! Those Defective Members of Humanity that Rise up from our Depths as Tyrants and attempt to force Tyranny on Humanity! Are the Faithless Money Changing False Profits that Test the Souls of Man Kind! While they try to make you Believe Christians must Turn the Other Cheek and Comply with their Evil, By hiding the Fact that doing so only Applies to Struggling Christians of Faith! They Hope you don't Realize that Christians are Gods Army and Protectors of His Word! The most Formidable Warriors on Earth by Far, and that Why We Still Exist after Thousands of Years, of Defeating Every Form of Evil and Tyranny that Has Tried to Destroy God, His People, and Our Faith in Him! The Original Bible is Our Guide and We do not Step Back from Evil or Tyranny! We Defeat it and Drive it out Because We Know Heaven is Our Next Adventure! We Know that anything Free is that of Evil! And with our Faith in God's Guidance, We Earn Everything We have that does not Destroy or Corrupt us! False Faith is Worse then None by Far! The most Painful Life anyone can live, is that of Greed and False Faith! It is a Path of Evil Events that Isolate you from Faith in God and the Comfort within it! It Leaves you alone in your Misery and Hardships!

  • Mike Spears

    07/06/2019 02:28 PM

    Gov Huckabee: After watching President Trump's Great 4th of July celebration and hearing the left criticize it, I had a thought that maybe we should all chip in and buy a bunch of DVDs of "Yankee Doodle Dandy," with James Cagney, from 1942. Wouldn't it be great to send copies to Schumer, Pelosi, Biden, Booker, Warren, Nadler, etc, etc, etc? George M. Cohan was not ONLY a proud American who loved the country and the flag --- he was also a proud, staunch Democrat. Maybe it could teach them that once upon a time, it was possible to be both.

  • nascarccmgrlfan

    07/06/2019 01:49 PM

    *3rd, not 2nd. correction to my comment.

  • nascarccmgrlfan

    07/06/2019 01:47 PM

    I learned all the songs mentioned in school and have exposed to some outside even, like church or, in the case of "Yankee Doodle" the Barney kids, whether on the show or my Barney songs tape. I may have even learned "Yankee Doodle" while in preschool, when I started watching "Barney and Friends" from the Barney kids. "Yankee Doodle Boy" was the just "Yankee Doodle Dandy" with Boy substituting for Dandy. All the first 3 songs have some particular story attached for me. "God Bless the USA" was one of the songs in my fifth grade class play "Made in the USA", but without the first verse. However, I heard the whole song over the PA at school once (maybe 9/11 related?). The first was sung at an event (maybe an assembly of some sort, like the time 3 veterans visited my school during my time there. And the 2nd, one kid in my music class that year had to be told by our teacher "No, it's not O beautiful" after saying something indicative of thinking the song was called "O Beautiful".

  • Helen Tritt

    07/06/2019 12:17 PM

    Thank you Governor for explaining the background of such a historical song as "Yankee Doodle" and the full meaning of the song. Very Interesting. Thank you also for your newsletters which are very informative, I depend a lot on them. You are a big asset to President Trump along with your honesty, which is difficult to find around DC.
    God Bless You, and I am really going to miss Sarah as Press Secretary, she was TOPS!

  • LORI ANN REGO

    07/06/2019 11:52 AM

    THE YANKEE DOODLE ARTICLE WAS VERY FASINATING. NOW I UNDERSTAND WHAT THE WORDS MEAN. THANKS FOR DOING THE ARTICLE

  • LLOYD D MCKAIN

    07/05/2019 04:54 PM

    If Trump doesn't win this next Presidential election we, the country, will start a downward spiral to socialism and/or communism. Apparently, these so-called socialists do not remember what the name USSR stood for. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. So then socialism = communism..........
    Period

  • Firewagon

    07/05/2019 02:25 PM

    Ahh, a little history lesson. Any day you learn something, is a day not wasted! Thanks.

  • tom jeffs

    07/05/2019 01:23 PM

    YANKEE DOODLE DONALD . . . . . . . FOUR MORE YEARS ! ! ! ! ! ! !

  • kathleen McNamara

    07/05/2019 11:55 AM

    I love American History and especially interesting pieces about the Civil war and the revolutionary war. Many Thanks

  • james randolph

    07/05/2019 11:35 AM

    Modern analogy - THE DEPLORABLE T-SHIRT, and MAGA ballcap.

  • Maggie McCaul

    07/05/2019 11:34 AM

    This was great, Mike. I did know the story behind the song "Yankee Doodle". My music teacher in elementary school explained it to us, but it was great to hear the story again. I appreciate all your stories. I read your "Evening Edition" every day. Thanks so much. I really enjoy watching "Huckabee" on Saturday evenings. God bless you.

  • William Anselmo

    07/05/2019 11:29 AM

    Honorable Mike Huckabee,
    Thank you for writing this article, an excellent piece of history that i think most people have no idea what the song really was about at its beginning.
    I must say about our independence day, as well as calling it by that name, i also like to call it (for our country) our in-dependence of GOD day.
    My prayer is that the Word of GOD would once again thrive in our nation, and with men like yourself, i believe that can happen. May the Lord GOD bless you and your family richly!

  • Jerry Keeney

    07/05/2019 10:52 AM

    I was born on the 4th of July, and I really do love the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy". Since I really do have red hair, white skin, and blue eyes, I guess I really am a nephew of my Uncle Sam. I love this countries birthday as much as my own!