THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER

Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.
~John Adams

The United States of America was two years into the War of 1812. In response to an ongoing series of insults and threats from Great Britain, including an 1807 economic blockade prohibiting America from trading with France, the United States declared war to defend its sovereignty and its honor. Thousands of British troops were deployed to America so that by September 1814, British military invasions had included an attack on Washington, DC that resulted in the looting and burning of a number of public buildings, including the White House and Capitol. The British then turned their attention to Baltimore, and on September 13, 1814, nineteen ships sat in Baltimore Harbor awaiting their orders to begin the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Aboard one of those ships was the American doctor William Beanes, who had been arrested under the charge of aiding the arrest of British soldiers. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and amateur poet, heard of the arrest of his good friend, and together with John Skinner, the commissioner for the exchange of prisoners, hurried to the British fleet to see about obtaining the release of Dr. Beanes. Key provided a number of letters from British troops praising the care they had received from Dr. Beanes; the British agreed to release him, however, because the Americans had overheard British plans for the siege of Baltimore Harbor, they were forced to remain aboard the British ship.

It is difficult to imagine the fear and apprehension these men experienced as British ships attacked their beloved country. From seven in the morning Tuesday until past midnight Wednesday, the British navy pounded Fort McHenry at long range. Then, 16 ships moved closer, and one hour after midnight, showered the fort with hundreds of bombs. The rainy night sky was ablaze with the bombardment; Fort McHenry’s flag was impossible to see. What would they see when the dawn came? Would the same fate befall Baltimore as had been visited on Washington? Would America be under the British flag, or would the Stars and Stripes still declare her independence? “O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave?” The almost unbearable suspense and desperation is palpable.

Then, in the cool dawn, the fighting ceased. The three Americans strained to see the distant shore. Was it there? Was it there?

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

There it was, waving defiantly over Fort McHenry, declaring that America would not give in, would not give up her independence. Filled with pride, Francis Scott Key wrote the beginnings of the poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” on the back of an envelope while still captive on the British ship. The next day the Americans were released, and Key finished the poem in his hotel room. On September 20, 1814, the Baltimore Patriot and The American both printed the poem, which had by then been set to music. Soon after, the song was printed under the title “The Star Spangled Banner,” and in 1931--116 years after it was written--it was adopted as the official national anthem of the United States.

Too few Americans know its four verses, or stop to think of what this song really means. May we all truly experience its patriotism this Independence Day, and each day forth. God bless America.

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause. it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


~Shyla Lefever

To read about America’s founding documents, see our archives.