It was the best four bucks The Atlantic ever spent.
In late 1861, a New England abolitionist named Julia Ward Howe, moved by the sight of thousands of blue coats massing outside Washington, D.C., wrote a martial and stirring poem that placed God on the side of the Union cause. She sent her poem to James T. Fields, the editor of The Atlantic. He agreed to publish it, and he paid her $4 for her effort. The poem had no name, so Fields, a full-service editor, devised one himself. In February 1862, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” appeared on the front cover of the magazine.
Over the next century and a half, The Atlantic would publish in profusion Nobel Prize winners and presidents, the greatest novelists, and the most brilliant essayists. But for those of us lucky enough to be stewards of the modern-day Atlantic, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” somehow stands apart. It is, as our executive editor, Matt Thompson, says, our theme song. So it only seemed right that we would use this theme song as the music for our first podcast, Radio Atlantic, which launches today.
The podcast’s co-hosts are Matt, Alex Wagner (the Atlantic writer and CBS News anchor), and yours truly. And our music director is the extraordinary Jon Batiste, the New Orleans jazz visionary and Stephen Colbert’s bandleader. When we asked Jon, a friend of The Atlantic’s, to reimagine a 19th-century battle song for a 21st-century magazine, he said yes with alacrity and then produced a work of genius, one you will hear if you subscribe to our podcast.
Each week on the podcast, you’ll hear Alex, Matt, and me talk about the most-urgent issues of the day with our extraordinarily talented colleagues from The Atlantic, and with some of the country’s leading newsmakers and opinion leaders. Our first show features a discussion about the future of American democracy—and of the American idea itself—with the esteemed Atlantic writers David Frum and Molly Ball.
I encourage you to listen, to subscribe, and to tell your friends about our new show. And once you've listened to the pilot episode, please rate and review it on iTunes. The Atlantic was born 160 years ago, at a time of great crisis. While I would never compare the crisis of the late 1850s to the crises of today, it is nevertheless fair to say that we are living through a moment of extraordinary fracturing and political tension. The Atlantic was made for moments like this, and our new podcast, I hope, will help you make sense of the world.