A Star-Spangled History (?)

O! 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 through the perilous fight,
 <—— This line in the handwritten 1840s version

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
                originally read “Whose bright stars and

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
                 broad stripes, through the clouds of the fight”

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,
 <——– The “foe’s haughty host” in this case was the

What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
                  British fleet during the war of 1812.

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
 <———————- The words “hireling and slave” refer to the ex-

From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
                slaves the British had in the ranks, who joined to fight

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave                against the Americans.

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
 <—————————–On special government or

Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
                    national occasions, this

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
                 verse is sometimes still sung

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
                     today after the first stanza.

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!

British ships bombarded Fort McHenry outside of Baltimore; shots were fired and shots were returned as rain poured down heavily over the cove. The battle seemed endless until, as the early light illuminated the bay, a large and billowing American flag could still be seen flying over the fort.

It was this scene which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the few lines which would later be declared the national anthem of the United States. Key and another man, John Stewart Skinner, had boarded the British vessel the HMS Midden during the war of 1812 to secure an exchange of prisoners. While on board, the two men overheard plans to attack Baltimore that night, so they were held on board until after the battle was over.

Key originally wrote a poem entitled simply “Defense of Fort McHenry” in September of 1814, but it was later put to the music of an older song, “Anacreon in Heaven.” Newspapers then reprinted the poem with the title “The Star Spangled Banner.”

While the piece gained popularity during the late 19th century, it was not officially made the national anthem of the United States until 1931 by President Herbert Hoover.

The actual “Star Spangled Banner” is a flag made to represent the 15 states of the Union,the original thirteen plus Kentucky and Vermont. It has 15 stars and 15 stripes, but was only flown for a short time before a law was passed reducing the number of stripes to 13 in honor of the original colonies, but it kept the extra stars.

For more information on the national anthem and its history, check out the Smithsonian institution’s online exhibit: “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Emily Taylor
Written by Emily Taylor

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