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Star Spangled Banner

Star-Spangled Banner Manuscript
Handwritten Star-Spangled Banner Manuscript by Francis Scott Keys

The Star Spangled Banner can be a source of patriotism and inspiration. It has its roots in battle. Throughout history, the Star Spangled Banner has given motivation to those fighting and hope to those waiting for the fighters to return. Its words represent the desire to be free and the willingness to fight, and die, for that freedom. 

The Star Spangled Banner can also be a source of conflict. Since its inception, the anthem we now play at every ceremony and sporting event, has stirred up a little controversy. 

Beginnings

The War of 1812 saw the United States fighting Great Britain, which owned the most powerful navy in the world. The U.S. suffered many losses but American perseverance would go on to be the deciding factor in many key battles. In 1814 the war had been rolling on, but with the defeat of Napoleon, Great Britain found themselves more troops to dedicate to their American enemies. August of 1814. The British were reinvigorated and stronger than ever. The British Royal Navy sailed up the Patuxent River and landed just outside of Washington. They marched on the Capitol and razed the city, burning the White House as a vicious display of their intentions.

Leaving destruction in their wake, the British army marched toward Baltimore as the Royal Navy sailed up Chesapeake Bay. Their plan was to surround, capture and destroy the city. The army would march from the north and the navy would strike the fort protecting the waterway through.The British expected the city to fall quickly. They would soon find out they had a fight on their hands. 

During the march toward Baltimore, the British took various prisoners. One of those prisoners was a man named William Beanes. Having heard the news of his arrest, Beanes’ friend, Francis Scott Key, set out with John Skinner, to negotiate his release.

Key arrived at the British fleet and managed to ensure the release of Beanes. Unfortunately for Key, Skinner, and Beanes, they had to remain awhile. The British, preparing to attack, would not let them leave until the battle had been won. Key and his associates remained detained on a ship for a week leading up to the Battle of Baltimore. From the deck of this ship, Key would be inspired to write the Star Spangled Banner.

September 13, 1814. The attack begins.

Early in the morning, the British fleet bombarded Fort McHenry. Cannons roared and gunfire cracked across the misty water. Shells and rockets pounded the land and brick. Francis Scott Key looked on. He could do nothing for his American brethren but hope the fort did not fall. He watched through the day in awe of the merciless scene.

Night descended and visibility came by way of weapons. The battlefield was illuminated by the red glow of soaring rockets and the flashes of detonating shells. Key stood on the ship, rocking in the waves, as munitions whistled and exploded overhead. For twenty-five hours, the British reigned metal and fire down onto the Baltimore garrison. Although the fleet was too far away to strike back with efficacy, the brave men inside stood their ground. During the battle, the garrison flew an American storm flag. In the dawn’s early light, they replaced that flag with a large garrison flag, called the star spangled banner, which signaled an American victory. 

Francis Scott Key penned most of his words still aboard the ship he was detained on. His inspired words would go on to inspire a nation until today.

Adoption Starts

In 1889, the U.S. Navy began playing the Star Spangled Banner with the raising of the flag. Throughout the 19th century, the tune gained popularity and was played at baseball games. There were multiple bills drawn up in congress to assign it as the national anthem, all of them failing. In 1930 a petition was initiated with millions of people signing their name. Finally, on March 3, 1931, the song was officially named the national anthem of the United States.

Since then the anthem has been performed countless times. There have been adaptations of  the Star Spangled Banner, some even stirring up negative press. One such occurrence was Woodstock in 1969. Jimmy Hendrix’s adaptation of the the Star Spangled Banner included the sound effects of explosives. Many disagree with the handling of some adaptations finding it disrespectful, yet, many find them wonderful and just as patriotic as the original. 

Controversy

Today, the Star Spangled Banner is met with more controversy. There is a movement, led by professional athletes and celebrities, to kneel during the anthem. Those kneeling claim the anthem is a representation of a systematically unjust government.

The third verse references slaves. There are arguments to this verse being threatening to the slaves which escaped to fight for or find refuge with the British.

There are calls to replace the Star Spangled Banner and calls for a national black anthem.

Francis Scott Key himself is wrapped up in controversy. Although Key’s words celebrate freedom, he was known to be a slave owner. 

The words written in September 1814 have long endured. They have endured peacetime and war time. They have endured controversy.

They have both reinforced and changed the way individuals think about this nation and what the flag represents. No matter what one thinks of the song, it seems many will be singing it as long as the banner still flies.

Lyrics

“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 rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

Oh, 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 in the stream:

‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh 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!

Oh! 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!”

 Francis Scott Key, The Star-Spangled Banner

 

References

History.com editors 2021, History.com, Accessed Oct. 8 2021, 

https://www.history.com/topics/19th-century/the-star-spangled-banner

Cate Lineberry 2007, Smithsonianmag.com, Accessed Oct. 8 2021,

Various 2021, Wikipedia.com, Accessed Oct. 8, 2021,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star-Spangled_Banner

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